All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be the blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.
—Bilbo Baggins (J R.R. Tolkien)
I love a good Tolkien poem—the subtle depth, the mystery that pushes the story forward…
In three months my wife and I are going on an adventure, traveling to new and exciting places, a pilgrimage of sorts. While looking through different travel websites, I have come across this line from a poem in the Lord of the Rings (one of my favourite stories) numerous times: not all those who wander are lost.
At first I loved this little quote; it bought up images of traveling the world, of wandering, of freedom and of excitement. This sits well within our culture; we long for the ability to live freely and autonomously, traveling from experience to experience, not needing any place to be rooted to, seeing where the wind blows us.
I was talking with a man I know from my neighbourhood; he is about to leave New Zealand to travel the world. He talked of becoming a global citizen, of having no set abode, and of being able to work remotely and earn enough money to live well whilst traveling. Living the dream that my generation aspires to.
If you read this poem in context, it is referring to Aragon, the exiled King, returning to his throne. It is a poetic dream of the future of Middle Earth ruled by a good king of true descent from the last true good king who overthrew the evil that threatened Middle Earth. Not all who wander are lost is a reference to a king who is not being led by his heart, but to a king who is living in exile.
While talking to this man, I realised this idyllic lifestyle he was dreaming of was less of a utopia and more of an exile. He was leaving family, his community and even his wife. Not all who wander are lost.
We can only run for so long, stepping from experience to experience in a vain attempt to leave ourselves behind, to leave our pasts behind… to leave our pain behind.
But I believe like Aragon, our pasts will catch up with us, our hidden life, the side of us we keep trying hide, will follow us. Until, like the exiled King, we bravely face the sins of our fathers or the evil within. Will we be able to boldly defeat our greatest challenges? You see, Aragon’s exile is what prepared him to return as king.
As I travel this year, I will be viewing it as an exilic Sabbatical-rest, space in between, and preparation for my next season of life.
Not all who wander are lost, but most wander in exile.
First published in Christian Today New Zealand
Tim Shallard a founder of MorningCider; inexperienced chef; coffee snob; amature philosopher; part-time poet; and neighbour. He is passionate about food, coffee, people, and believes that in Jesus there is hope of peace. Follow him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tim.shallard1
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